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Moment of Silence—Dr. Marc Cathey, a Legend in Horticulture

Dr. Henry Marcellus Cathey, 79, passed away October 8, 2008. He served two terms as president of the American Horticultural Society.


An internationally renowned horticulturist whose career spanned more than half a century, Dr. Henry Marcellus Cathey passed away October 8, 2008 following a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 79 years old. Dr. Cathey served two terms as president of the American Horticultural Society (AHS) and was a longtime member of the organization’s board of directors.

He began his career as a researcher for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, then served as the director of the U.S. National Arboretum for a decade. He was an author and speaker, a frequent guest on national television shows, and hosted a radio show for many years.

“He was brilliant in every sense of the word, incredibly smart, a bright shining light, and a man of remarkable professional and personal accomplishments,” said Katy Moss Warner, AHS president emeritus.

His passionate belief that plants and gardens are important to human well-being is reflected in his signature line, “Green is the color of hope.”

Dr. Cathey had a scientific bent, with a colorful personality and a zest for life. His research on the use of artificial lighting to control bloom time is still benefiting commercial horticulturists and gardeners. He was generous in sharing his knowledge and passion for horticulture and became a mentor for hundreds of people, many of whom have gone on to become leaders in horticulture and floriculture today. Among his peers and friends he was well known for his sartorial splendor, love of movies and music, and fondness for the color purple. A devoted family man, he had a soft spot for children, especially his four granddaughters, who called him Beau-Beau.

Dr. Cathey’s involvement with the AHS began in 1959. He was a board member for 18 years and president from 1974 to 1978, and 1993 to 1997.

Dr. Cathey was editor-in-chief of the second edition of The American Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, published in 2004. He also conceived and developed the AHS Plant Heat Zone Map, published in 1997. In 2000, he introduced the SmartGarden program, which focuses on earth-friendly gardening.

Dr. Cathey received his bachelor’s degree in floriculture from North Carolina State University in 1950, then went on to earn his master’s and doctorate in horticulture from Cornell University. In 1956 Dr. Cathey became a research horticulturist at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Md., where he worked for 24 years. During his term as director of the U.S. National Arboretum, starting in 1981, his notable accomplishments included the installation of the National Capital Columns in 1990, and the publication of the current version of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, released in 1990.

Dr. Cathey is survived by his wife, Mary, two children, and four grandchildren.

The American Horticultural Society (AHS) was founded in 1922. AHS is based in Alexandria, Va. For more information, visit

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June 27, 2019, 1:58 am PDT

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